Given all the discussion around the Internet of Things (I0T), it’s tempting to think there are some interesting consumer-focused opportunities. But let’s make it clear from the start — consumer-oriented IoT products aren’t really ready for prime time.
The recent news of the small number of Android Wear watch shipments and the limited success to date of any kind of smart home products are just two of many examples of the challenges facing consumer IoT. As mentioned in another column I wrote earlier this week, in many cases, the challenge is with the business models associated with smart consumer things. The biggest problem, however, is there really aren’t that many clear cut cases of useful applications for consumer IoT.
When it comes to industry, thankfully, that isn’t the case. There are quite a few useful, cost-effective applications of IoT for business. The problem is, well, they’re kind of boring: monitoring and automating building HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning) systems, tracking shipping containers, etc. These aren’t exactly the kinds of things I think most tech industry observers were expecting (or hoping) IoT would turn out to be. [pullquote]There are quite a few useful, cost-effective applications of IoT for business. The problem is, well, they’re kind of boring.”[/pullquote]
Just because they aren’t exciting doesn’t mean they aren’t real business opportunities, however—far from it. There are a number of companies creating sensor networks, analytics tools and other IoT-related products that are allowing businesses to save real money on their operating expenses or reduce costs in some aspect of their businesses.
At Fujitsu’s Technology Forum event, held this week at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, the company, affiliated subdivisions and its corporate R&D lab demonstrated a wide range of real-world IoT applications and forthcoming concepts. They ranged from sensors that enable highly sloped terrain near Taiwanese roads to receive the proper amount of watering and care to keep the land from eroding, to a major Japanese grocery store that’s leveraging IoT sensors to maximize the crop growth at a number of small farms they’ve recently created.
Are these applications practical? Yes. Useful? Yes. Valuable? Yes. Likely to make a Wired cover story or the lead story on The Verge? Not so much…
Nevertheless, Fujitsu’s demos also served to illustrate how many different elements often need to go into an industrial (or, for that matter, any kind of) IoT solution. From sensors to radios to networks to data centers to software of many types, these really are pretty sophisticated systems. To Fujitsu’s credit, they are actually one of the few vendors in the world that make products in every single one of these areas. Plus, they’re spending a lot of time and attention working on developing many applications that can leverage all the component pieces they design and manufacture.
There’s no question that IoT is real and offering important benefits to companies around the world. The likelihood it’s going to directly impact your life anytime soon, however, is a different story.